>Wednesday Lunch: A Moment of Clarity

Posted: October 6, 2010 in ncaafb
Tags: ,

>By Dylan Davis
Every January, college football brings us a few teams that stand out from the rest of the pack. These teams consistently dominated their foes throughout the year and deserved to be mentioned among the elite for that season. In 2008, it was Florida, Alabama, Oklahoma, and Texas who played at the highest level, and that showed in the final rankings. Last year it was again the Gators, Tide, and Longhorns that stood head and shoulders above the rest (you could also make an argument for Boise State in this group.)

It’s obvious now which of these teams were the best, but in the middle of those seasons, we had very little idea who would be playing for the crown come seasons end. In the preseason poll for 2008, the top three teams were Georgia, USC, and Ohio State. Also in the top 10 were Missouri, LSU, West Virginia, Clemson, and Auburn. This shows how much of a crapshoot preseason polls really are, and Florida, Alabama, Oklahoma, and Texas weren’t all in the top 5 until October 12, which was week 7. In 2009, it only took until week 3 for all of those teams to be ranked as the top 3 teams, but Boise State wasn’t in the top 5 two weeks in a row at any time during the season despite being undefeated.
The point I’m trying to make is this: Although a lot of people say they know who’s going to win the national championship, some years they have no idea. Last year we had a pretty good idea of the contenders, but the year before it took almost half the season before we could point those teams out. At some point every season, each team that wants to be considered elite has to put up a statement performance. In ’08, Florida beat Oklahoma and Alabama on their way to the title. Texas also beat Oklahoma and the Crimson Tide absolutely annihilated preseason favorite Georgia. Last year the Gators and Tide cruised through their regular seasons undefeated and the Horns demolished Oklahoma in Dallas.
The past two weekends have given us a little insight into who might be among those elite teams, and which undefeated squads are just waiting to be hammered by a seemingly lesser opponent. Let’s take a look at some of the contenders and see if we can flesh out which ones are for real, and which ones could end up at the Meineke Car Care Bowl (I put these teams in reverse order of rank and only included teams that have a realistic chance).
Michigan (5-0, ranked 18th)
Best Win: 28-24 at Notre Dame
Best Chance to Lose: Michigan State this weekend
Chances of Being “Elite”: I’m gonna say approximately 0.5%. The win over Notre Dame has looked less and less impressive with every loss the Irish have sustained since then and the rest of their schedule has been atrocious. This would be fine if Michigan was trouncing everyone, but they’ve also had close games against UMass and Indiana. We know that Denard Robinson is an absolute beast, but their defense is horrendous. Even though I put Michigan State as their best chance to lose, that’s only because they play them first. I also could have included Iowa, Penn State, Wisconsin, or Ohio State.

Michigan State (5-0, Ranked 17th)
Best Win: 34-24 vs. Wisconsin
Best Chance to Lose: At Iowa on October 30th
Chances of Being “Elite: Better than their instate rivals, but not by much. I say 3% chance they are elite. The Spartans also haven’t played the most challenging of schedules, but they did look very good against a solid Wisconsin squad. I need to see more out of this team before I give them some props, but they do avoid Ohio State this season and I think their schedule could break the right way for them to do some damage in the Big 10.

LSU (5-0, Ranked 12th)
Best Win: 20-14 vs. West Virginia
Best Chance to Lose: At Florida this week.
Chances of being “Elite”: This team is almost exactly the same as Michigan so I’ll give them 0.5% as well. They both haven’t won any game that makes you think they’re elite. They both have a tough upcoming schedule and they both have major issues on one side of the ball. LSU’s offense has been atrocious so far this year and the only thing keeping them in games is their equally dominant defense. As with Michigan, I only put the Florida game there because it’s the first game of a few I think they could lose. You could also add Auburn, Alabama, and Arkansas to that list. I look for their luck to run out sooner rather than later.

Utah (4-0, Ranked 10th)
Best Win: 27-24 vs. Pittsburgh
Best Chance to Lose: November 6th vs. TCU
Chances of being “Elite”: Their week 1 demolition of Pittsburgh doesn’t look as good in hindsight, but they’ve won the games on their schedule and that’s all you can ask. I’ll put them at 10% chance of being considered “elite”. Their schedule gets tougher with road trips to Iowa State, Air Force, and Notre Dame along with a visit from #5 TCU. If they can run that table and get an invite to a BCS bowl, they would have to beat another Elite team or destroy a lesser BCS team to warrant an invite to elite status. I just can’t see this happening.

Arizona (4-0, Ranked 9th)
Best Win: 34-27 vs. Iowa
Best Chance to Lose: November 6th at Stanford
Chances of being “Elite”: After getting a huge home win against the Hawkeyes, they slipped up and almost lost to unranked Cal at home. I need to see more from this team, but for now I’ll say they have a 13% chance of being elite. If they run through their schedule undefeated, they would certainly deserve it, but that’s a big if. That would involve them beating the Cardinal and Oregon on the road in a three-week span, which I can’t see them doing.

Auburn (5-0, Ranked 8th)
Best Win: 35-27 vs. South Carolina
Best Chance to Lose: November 26th at Alabama
Chances of being “Elite”: Their offense, led by Florida transfer Cam Newton, has been a revelation this year and they’ve already won a pair of nail biters. For that, and their upcoming schedule I’ll put them at 25%. They have difficult games against Arkansas and at Alabama, but even if they lose one of those games, they could still end the season in the top 5 with a BCS bowl win.

Nebraska (4-0, Ranked 7th)
Best Win: 56-21 at Washington
Best Chance to Lose: Big 12 championship game vs. Oklahoma
Chances of being “Elite”: With the impressive performances they’ve already thrown up this year, specifically against Washington, they look like a very quality team. I’m going to say 35% chance they’re elite. If they can get by a Texas squad that has disappointed this year, they should run the table until they meet Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game. I don’t think they’ll necessarily lose that game, but it’s their best chance from here on out. Don’t be surprised if you see them in the title game opposite Alabama or Ohio State.

Oklahoma (5-0, Ranked 6th)
Best Win: 47-17 vs. Florida State
Best Chance to Lose: November 27th at Oklahoma State
Chances of being “Elite”: They’ve looked impressive against two up-and-down teams in beating Texas and destroying Florida State, which makes it difficult to gauge how good the Sooners really are. I’ll put them at 35% along with the Huskers. The rivalry game with Oklahoma State is never easy and the Cowboys look loaded on offense this year. Don’t be surprised if the Sooners win that game and beat Nebraska to end up opposite of the Tide or Buckeyes in the title game.

TCU (5-0, Ranked 5th)
Best Win: 45-10 vs. Baylor
Best Chance to Lose: November 6th at Utah
Chances of being “Elite”: I’m not completely sold on TCU’s rebuilt defense, but if they can get by ranked Air Force at home and Utah on the road they should be in a position to possibly jump Boise State in the polls. This is a big if, and right now I’d put their elite chances at 30%. That’s only less than the two Big 12 teams because I think even if they get to a BCS game, they would still lose.

Boise State (4-0, Ranked 4th)
Best Win: 37-24 vs. Oregon State
Best Chance to Lose: November 26th at Nevada
Chances of being “Elite”: Their win over Virginia Tech is starting to look better as the Hokies have won three in a row, but I don’t think they will have a chance to really prove themselves until their second to last game in Reno. With that being said, they have looked great so far this year and I would put their elite chances at 60%.

Oregon (5-0, Ranked 3rd)
Best Win: 52-31 vs. Stanford
Best Chance to Lose: November 26th vs. Arizona
Chances of being “Elite”: Oregon played a mediocre game in the first half against a very good Stanford team and still won by three touchdowns. This is the mark of a true champion and if they keep their composure and don’t overlook anyone, I would expect them to play for the national title against Alabama or Ohio State. Elite chances: 75%.

Ohio State (5-0, Ranked 2nd)
Best Win: 36-24 vs. Miami
Best Chance to Lose: November 20th at Iowa
Chances of being “Elite”: 90%. This team hasn’t looked their best yet this season, and yet they’ve still never been in danger of losing. I think their schedule sets up nicely for a run to the title, with games against Wisconsin, Iowa, and rival Michigan as the only real obstacles. I fully expect them to be faced off with Alabama on January 10th in Glendale.

Alabama (5-0, Ranked 1st)
Best Win: 31-6 vs. Florida
Best Chance to Lose: This week at South Carolina
Chances of being “Elite”: 95%. There is almost no way they will lose to both Auburn and South Carolina, so they will only have one loss at most going into the bowl season and they could still play for the title if that happens. They have looked so dominant in every game this season, and against Arkansas, they showed they could win under pressure. They should be heavily favored in every game they play the rest of the year and Nick Saban knows how to keep this team focused.
Heisman Watch: I’m only going to put three players on the list this week because I believe they are far ahead of the rest of the competition. There are not five finalists invited to New York every year, and that may happen again this year.

  1. Denard Robinson (QB Michigan) – Another absolute masterpiece from the Wolverines signal caller. He had over 200 yards rushing and throwing and 500 yards total. If he can keep up this pace the next few weeks, just give him the trophy.

  1. LaMichael James (HB Oregon) – He showed on national TV against ranked Stanford that he’s the real deal. He ran for 257 yards and 3 touchdowns in the trouncing of the Cardinal. He’s another player that has a huge lead over the competition in the race for college footballs most coveted award.

  1. Colin Kaepernick (QB Nevada) – He’s a poor man’s Denard Robinson as he can get it done with both his legs and his arm. He won’t have too man national games to showcase his skills but if he can keep up his current pace until they play Boise to end the year, he should be in every Heisman conversation.

Final Thoughts:
The SEC East has been horrible this year, and this past week showed that. South Carolina didn’t have a game on their schedule, and that turned out to be the best thing that happened to this division. The other five teams lost all of their games and none looked too good in doing so. Florida, Tennessee, and Georgia have all been major disappointments so far this year and Vanderbilt and Kentucky have been what they were expected to be, which is not good. South Carolina has been the only bright spot this year, and the East needs them to keep winning.
The West has been a completely different story; Alabama, Arkansas, and LSU have all looked like contenders for the conference and the national title. We already saw one meeting among these teams (Alabama vs. Arkansas) and needless to say, I’m excited for the rest.
Oregon showed they can be mediocre and still beat a good team, which should scare the rest of the Pac 10. If they can run the table in the league, like they should, they would be a difficult match-up for anyone in Glendale.
Week 6 Preview:
There are some intriguing early games on Saturday that should set the tone for an exciting weekend. Lets take a look.
Games of the Week:

  • Michigan vs. Michigan State: This game should be fascinating to see if the Wolverine defense can slow down the physical rushing of the Spartans. If they can get a few key stops I could see Denard having another amazing day and pulling out a late victory. Unfortunately for the Wolverines fans (sorry Will) I don’t this transpiring, and I see Greg Jones and the Spartans defense doing just enough to get the W. Pick: Michigan State-34 Michigan-30

  • South Carolina vs. Alabama: There are fewer and fewer teams on Alabama’s schedule that should give them a challenge, but this is one of them. Going to Columbia is never easy, but I think the Tide is just a little too talented and deep for the Gamecocks. Pick: Alabama-27 South Carolina-17

  • Florida vs. LSU: Both of these teams have been a train wreck on offense (and that’s putting it nicely) while being stifling on defense. This could be a traditional SEC slugfest that I think Florida wins based on one or two big plays. Pick: Florida-14 LSU-10

  • HarrisMiami vs. Florida State: Don’t be surprised if this is one of the games of the year. Both of teams were destroyed by higher ranked teams on the road early in the year, but both have shown that they have the talent and fortitude to be factors in the ACC. This is always a great game when the talent levels are equal, and this year they are. Pick: Miami-28 Florida State-27

That’s all the time we have for this week’s lunch, but tune in next week to see which teams fell from the ranks of the unbeaten and which teams took another step towards elite status. Have a great week.


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